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Garment Care Basics for Full-Service Operators (Part 1)

Longtime launderer Gardner discusses care labels and more

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. — If you run a self-service laundry operation, then you’re leaving the cleaning and stain removal up to your customers. But if you offer wash/dry/fold services and are doing laundry for your customers, then your need to know and understand the basics of garment care is much greater.

For a webinar last month, the Coin Laundry Association asked Jeff Gardner, who owned and operated a Minnesota-based residential and commercial laundry services business called The Laundry Doctor for many years before selling it recently, to share his thoughts on some garment care basics.


Jeff Gardner
Jeff Gardner

Care labels are attached to a garment or fabric and contain the manufacturer’s instructions for its care and cleaning. They came about, Gardner explains, because manufacturers were held responsible for producing a way that the consumer could clean their garments after being worn.

“Care labels were almost exclusively created for professional dry cleaners,” he says. “We, as laundry operators, tend to stick our nose in that area more and more with the onset of wash/dry/fold, and it becoming a bigger and bigger sector in our business.”

He remembers a time when his WDF operation didn’t pay much attention to them because “we kind of assumed the customer would only give us stuff that they deemed to be washable.” But you never know when someone is going to give you a “dry-clean only garment or, even more deadly than a dry-clean garment, that brand-new red garment that could be cotton and launderable.”

Gardner says he’s seen garments with care labels that read, “Do Not Clean,” “Do Not Dry Clean” or “Do Not Wet Clean,” and have absolutely no cleaning instructions.

“So there are manufacturers that are saying to consumers that you’re buying something you can’t take care of going forward,” he says. They’re usually high-end, very expensive garments that won’t even stand up to a wash, Gardner adds, because their finish won’t withstand mechanical action or direct cleaning.

He trained his staff as a dry cleaner would train theirs: to examine every care label on garments received and make the customer aware of any item’s cleaning limitations or restrictions prior to making the attempt to clean it.

“The most important thing is to know the garment, especially from a washing standpoint,” he says. “Know what your risks are with certain types of garments.”

If you’re doing basic WDF, post signage saying you’re not responsible for damages and state that customers should submit only garments that are washable. If you’re offering a higher-end service and charging more, over $2 a pound, then maybe you’re expected to look at every individual garment and sort them by cleaning needs, according to Gardner.


Some of the fabrics commonly found in garments sold today are cotton, linen, polyester, silk, wool and rayon. Each has its own unique qualities that must be considered when deciding the best way to clean it.

“There are really two categories of products there: you’ve got a manufactured product and a natural product, and they’re both very temperamental in their own ways,” Gardner says.

A launderer’s challenge with each is to maintain its appearance while getting it clean.

Pilling creates the tiny lint balls found on sweaters and bed sheets, for example, and those pills are actually broken, knotted fibers.

“The more you wash a garment, the more mechanical action you put on it, the quicker—depending on what it’s made of—it will pill,” Gardner says.

An audience member asked about cleaning yoga pants, popular in women’s fashion today. Because some care labels say to not dry them, you may be tempted to air-dry them, he says, but few laundry operations can spare the space needed.

“If you have equipment that has moisture-drying capability or, even better, no heat settings, you can still pass the air through a shrinkable garment,” he offers. “The nice thing about these things is they dry really quickly.”

Check back Monday for the conclusion

The Coin Laundry Association frequently offers webinars that cover topics such as marketing, store operations and management, and new investor education. Visit to learn more.

Garment Care Basics for Full-Service Operators

(Photo: © Rosinka79/Depositphotos)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].